Peter Miller reviews Of Barns and Palaces

A very important addition to the library of Northwest architecture, in particular, its residential work. Yeon was the private, self-effacing architect; his entire portfolio was only 50 designs, most of them unbuilt. His most famous house, the Watzek House of 1937, and the Swan House of 1950, are both in Portland.

Both houses are private to their soul - brilliantly wood-framed, elegantly wood-detailed, and both, like Yeon, to themselves, to a private poetry. They feature interior walkways, and sheltered courtyard. They move along the site, and wait to present their view.

They are each a perfect example of mid-century modernism in Northwest terms - the terms of privacy, the quiet, remarkable wealth of material, the full acknowledgement of vernacular design, in specific the barn. The barn was, in its way and in its breadth, the first palace.

The instincts, of site and of propriety, of thickened walls and quiet passage, of sheltering roof and then to see - they run to the depth of this Northwest.

Note that Yeon, from his early 20s, was a remarkable conservationist. He bought property at Cannon Beach, so it could not be built on. He wagered a 50 year battle to save the banks of the Columbia Gorge, long before most imagined there was a danger. As he said about Washington State, “half of the Gorge is an orphan, which Washington has abandoned and Oregon cannot adopt”.

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